Conan O'Brien rejects move, will likely leave NBC
Conan to NBC: Move me and you’ll lose me.
After days of public drama worthy of one of the network’s soap operas, the “Tonight Show” host said Tuesday he will not agree to push his broadcast to 12:05 a.m. to accommodate Jay Leno, who was a ratings bomb in the 10 p.m. slot and will be moved to 11:35 p.m. after the Olympics next month.
“I sincerely believe that delaying the ‘Tonight Show’ into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting,” O’Brien said in a statement. “My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of ‘The Tonight Show.’ But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction.”
TMZ reported that Leno will get “The Tonight Show” back and that O’Brien was in talks with Fox about a show from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. A spokeswoman for Fox declined to comment. In his statement, O’Brien said he had “no other offer.”
With a cheeky flourish, O’Brien addressed his statement to “People of Earth” and threw in a joke about his hair at the end, but the message was serious.
He accused NBC of not giving him enough of a chance and hurting him with a weak lead-in, an apparent knock against Leno. O’Brien took over the show from Leno in June and has been trailing David Letterman of CBS in the ratings.
Both NBC and a representative for Leno declined to comment. Leno’s last 10 p.m. will be Feb. 11.
O’Brien’s manager, Gavin Polone, said the pressure is on the network.
“Conan’s going to keep coming in to work,” Polone said Tuesday. “The true right thing for (NBC) to do is leave the show at 11:30 like they agreed to.”
He would not comment on whether O’Brien would give up any money by leaving, but reports yesterday said NBC would not have to pay his annual salary of between $10 and $20 million if he left.
Wally Podrazik, co-author of the book “Watching TV,” said NBC showed more patience when it gave Leno “The Tonight Show” in 1992, watching him lose to Letterman for almost three years before pulling ahead for good.
Asking Leno to bump O’Brien now, he said, is unrealistic.
“They were trying to do too many things at once: they were trying to keep them all and now they’re going to lose one of them in a very messy way,” he said.